26 July 2010

Anecdotal Evicence: SIM Card Registration

I wrote this short piece recently, looking at the benefits of SIM card registration (e.g. fighting crime) versus the fact that it's a massive admin headache for the mobile operators and subscribers.

I have a suspicion that it's going to come down on the side of the admin headache:

I went to register my SIM cards a few days ago. Safcom's forms have no duplicate, so I basically walked away with no evidence that I had tried to comply with the regulations. I noted down the number on the form, but that's no good if someone loses the form, which appears entirely possible. The lady at the outlet told me that the forms would be passed on to CCK and she 'hoped that the information would be processed.' The 'hope' in that sentence gave me nervous visions of stacks of forms. Like the immigration card stacks at the airport.

Zain at least have a duplicate that you can take with you, but no stamp or anything showing that you have really submitted your details.

Neither one actually checked the copy of my passport against the details I put down on the form, or just checked the passport copy itself against the passport (I could have probably taken someone else's passport. Or faked the information on it. I could have also just made up my postal and residential address since there's no way of checking this via my passport. Good thing I'm lazy).

My colleague reported something similar from her trip to Orange Telkom and another mobile operator outlet: The first outlet she went to didn't insist on seeing her ID (she didn't have a photocopy), and since she just came out of the first operator's outlet, the people at the second one said that she must be ok, and so took her registration form without even asking for the ID. Yes, really.

I'm not sure what the provisions are for keeping that new subscriber data base updated, but I do wonder about the accuracy of that data base in the first place. That's without even thinking about data security and the capacity of the police to intervene and follow up in case of any crime.

Anecdotal evidence from a friend in Tanzania:
'I registered one of my lines with a shopping centre security guard for a TZS500/= facilitation fee. And he made sure I got the duplicate. I can't work out whose interests this exercise benefits, apart from entrepreneurial security men.'

13 June 2010

No Ibrahim Award in 2010 Either

For the second year in a row, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has decided not to award the Mo Ibrahim Award. It had been one of the early criticisms of the award that the talent pool of ‘democratically elected former African Executive Head of State or Government who (have) served their term in office within the limits set by the country's constitution and (have) left office in the last three years’ would run out pretty quickly.

So the foundation is now in a bind: if they keep not awarding the prize, then it quickly becomes at best irrelevant. If they water down their own criteria to award it – it becomes irrelevant, too. In fact, when Mo Ibrahim was asked about the award at the Nation Media Conference in March, he got surprisingly defensive over what were fairly straightforward questions. The impending launch of the ‘Ibrahim Leadership Fellowships, a selective programme designed to identify and prepare the next generation of outstanding African leaders by providing them with mentoring opportunities in key multilateral institutions’, seems an effort to work around this hitch with the award.

Of course it’s Mo Ibrahim’s money, and so he can do whatever he well pleases with it. Still, that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion:

That it’s just not a very good idea to concentrate on presidents of all people: It’s exceedingly difficult to become and stay president and be clean around here.

I also find the concept that African presidents need to be paid off to keep their hands out of the till questionable, on two levels: They need to be bribed to rule properly? A bit of an oxymoron.

And if that is so, then USD5m are just not going to wash: The Nation’s Gado drew a fantastic cartoon in which Mugabe leant over to Museveni, whispering to him: ‘USD5m? I can clear that in a year’. It’s petty cash for anyone running an oil economy: Gabon’s Ali Ben Bongo – who took over the presidency from his father - has just bought property in Paris for GBP85m.

The argument that they need to have a perspective for the time after their tenure is nonsense, too, I find: For starters, they have spent years earning a salary and perks vastly above that of their average citizen, and get a neat retirement package on top of that (how many cars and staff does former president Moi have again courtesy of the Kenyan tax payer?). I don’t see how anyone still owes them any more ego stroking after all that.

30 May 2010

I’m now feeling distinctly more encouraged about Africom

I found the post ‘Pack like it's Arizona’ thanks to a notice by Africommons blog. It’s an account of his recent trip to Botswana by Major Steven Lamb, the acting Social Media Chief for U.S. Africa Command and it's really interesting:

• First para spent on why he doesn’t do Facebook, Twitter etc. That’s all very well, but social media are not just about one’s own private life (which he’s of course perfectly entitled to keep private, if he so wishes), but also about professional communications with an organisation’s target audience. Since he’s the acting Social Media Chief, I think it’s time to hand that position over to someone who has some sort of grasp what social media are.

• His first trip to Africa? Interesting hiring practice at Africom. Regional experience not a must?

• Six weeks are not much time to plan. Possibly not for the amount of work that Africom expected from him, I wouldn’t know. But not enough time to get a visa for Namibia? Huh??

• And back to the social media thing, digital media aren’t his forte either, I guess: He concludes his blog post with: ‘On the personal side, I learned the value of doing a bit more research on my target location and also the benefits of being prepared for whatever changes might occur.’ Google could have probably told him about weather, internet access and such basics in 10min.

Lovely, lovely. I feel much better about Africom now. With an approach like that, you don’t really have to go as far as worrying about any underlying evil of Africom. Generalised cluelessness will be your primary concern.

20 April 2010

Angelina Jolie to protect civilians through use of digital communications

From some past inquiries, I’m still on the UNHCR mailing list and occasionally get their mailings on Somalia. They usually involve five-digit figures of refugees fleeing the fighting in Mogadishu and elsewhere. This is sad. And sadly, this is also effectively routine. The fighting in Somalia has been going on for two decades and for a number of reasons that turn this into a complex and incredibly difficult to resolve conflict.

Since I write mostly about economic and business issues, I typically click these alerts away. However, yesterday I read on for a change when I received an email titled ‘Angelina Jolie appeals for safety of civilians in Somali capital’. According to this press release, Angelina Jolie 'expressed her concern for the lives and the well-being of thousands of displaced people who are trapped in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.’ The text goes on to state: ‘I am deeply troubled by the complete and utter disregard for human life in Somalia. ... I fear for their lives. I appeal to those who carry on fighting not to shell and target civilian neighbourhoods.’

That is very kind of Ms Jolie. A tad late maybe since this has happened to civilians for two decades. Never mind. Don't knock good intentions. But I hope that UNHCR have the Al Shabaab and assorted other fighting parties on their mailing list, too.

I ran this past my focus group (i.e. Facebook friends). Several people recommended shipping her and assorted supporters off to Mogadishu for an on-site event. Internet connections are of course available in Mogadishu, but this would certainly get around the question of whether the fighting parties are included in UNHCR’s mailing list. As Mr G said: ‘And she's supposed to be one of the more intelligent Hollywood stars. I feel genuinely sorry for the truly thick ones.’ Maybe if George Clooney also chipped in?

22 March 2010

Nation Media Group's Pan African Media Conference – Day II

I wasn’t so impressed with the first day of the Nation Media Group's big 'Pan-African Media Conference' – too many presidents, and too little that actually had something to do with the media. Had they just called it the 50th anniversary celebrations, it would have worked better.

The second day was more interesting. Unfortunately, in the morning, several sessions ran in parallel, and I heard that the session on new media was hopelessly crowded – not giving this subject its own plenary session was clearly an oversight.

I walked in later in the morning, at the tail end of a discussion on languages – preserving local languages (or rather 'rocar ranguages', as it came out) in media, or trying to get everyone really proficient in one? One panellist made the argument that in order to compete successfully on a global scale, proficiency in English is necessary: 'New forms of technology create an illiteracy of their own'. I sympathise with that.

Then, just before the break, a truly acrobatic feat: Uganda's Minister for Information and National Guidance, Kabakumba Labwoni Masiko, was asked a question about Ugana's proposed media regulations: jail terms of up to two years for journalists who commit 'economic sabotage', the expansion of the media council to give more control to the ministry, the licensing of print media, and other restrictions on the media in Uganda. Moderator Sibi Okumu nearly bent over backwards to assure the minister that no, heavens forbid, she wouldn't have to answer this question if she didn't want to since it was not the session's topic ('We could spend an eternity on what doesn't work', he said. Well, why don't we?). Thanks to that, she was able to react with a very cursory reply on the Ugandan government's commitment to press freedom and that the Ugandan media were 'stakeholders in development' – never a confidence-inspiring statement.

Conferences always have their own dynamics: On day one, the red-carpet session, the big names, the dull speeches. Everyone turns up for that, even though protocol and security are a nightmare. By day two of the NMG conference, many people – and certainly the eminent ones and their hangers-on – had gone home. The rest were snoozy after lunch, and later hot and dehydrated and the last two sessions ran without a break. A pity, because the topics were interesting, and very relevant to the media industry: Reporting in a crisis, with an interesting keynote from Joe Odindo, and media freedom. I thought the latter was particularly interesting and should have been given a lot more, and a lot more technical space: Kenya is now moving to restrict the broadcast media through regulations that will do little to improve quality, but much to fragment the industry and make it less viable. Quite in contrast to official statements, Uganda is doing the same in print media, and the raid on the Kenyan Standard shows that irrespective of what regulations say, there's still always that old-school approach.

Trevor Ncube commented that after a period of liberalisation, the media space has been contracting again in recent years. Especially the regulatory angle to media freedom would have been worth pursuing in more detail, I think, not the least because there are legitimate concerns over media ethics and quality.

Conference report, speeches etc here.